Kerala gold smuggling case: NIA custody of accused extended

In a report submitted in the Special NIA court, the central investigation agency probing the Kerala gold smuggling case, which came to light on July 5, said that it is suspected that the accused used the proceeds to finance terrorism through various means.
Kerala gold smuggling case accused Swapna Suresh (L) and Sandeep Nair (R) detained by National Investigation Agency from Bengaluru.(ANI)
Kerala gold smuggling case accused Swapna Suresh (L) and Sandeep Nair (R) detained by National Investigation Agency from Bengaluru.(ANI)
Updated on Jul 22, 2020 03:44 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram | By

Swapna Suresh, Sandeep Nair and others had conspired together and separately to damage the country’s monetary stability by destabilising the economy by smuggling large quantity of gold from abroad, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) said on Tuesday, even as a special court on Tuesday extended their custody till July 24.

In a report submitted in the Special NIA court, the central investigation agency probing the Kerala gold smuggling case, which came to light on July 5, said that it is suspected that the accused used the proceeds to finance terrorism through various means.

The report further stated that the accused deliberately used the diplomatic baggage of United Arab Emirates (UAE) as a cover to transact illegal business, which may have serious repercussions in India’s diplomatic relations with the UAE government.

Suresh worked at the UAE consulate general’s office before she joined as an operational manager of the Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Limited under the state IT Ministry in 2017. Nair was a former employee of the Consulate as well.

Meanwhile, Suresh’s bail plea stated that she was being implicated in the crime on a wild imagination without any basis and the case was the offshoot of the political rivalry between the state and central governments, triggered by the colourful and fictitious stories aired by the media.

The NIA charged five persons under Sections 15, 16, and 17 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) soon after 30 kilos of 24-carat gold, estimated to be worth at least 15 crore, was uncovered from a carton addressed to an attache of the UAE Consulate, who has since left the country.

In a related development, Kerala higher education minister K T Jaleel will be questioned in connection with the case, a senior official aware of the investigation said.

Last week, Jaleel had said that he had accepted a sponsorship for food worth 5 lakh from the UAE Consulate to distribute as ‘zakat’ (alms, one of the five pillars of Islam).

A list purported to show Suresh’s phone records were leaked to media which indicated that she had spoken to the minister. The purported list showed nine calls in June, with the duration ranging from 64 seconds to 195 seconds. Suresh also got in touch with the minister’s office.

Jaleel clarified that he had spoken to Suresh in her capacity as a consular employee in connection with Ramadan kits being offered by the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram. However, state ministers are not supposed to directly interact with the representative of a foreign country and it is against diplomatic protocol and norms. “All such contributions will have to come through the MEA only,” said former diplomat T P Sreenivasan.

“The conduct of the minister is punishable under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act. We have requested the PM to include this also in the ongoing probe into smuggling,” said Congress parliamentarian and United Democratic Front convener Benny Behnan. The Bharatiya Janata Party has sought his immediate resignation.

“I did not accept direct money or fund. I accepted ‘zakat’ to distribute it to poor people in my constituency. I did it through a government agency. It is sad such a humanitarian move is mired in a controversy,” Jaleel said adding that during Diwali and Christmas, foreign missions often perform similar acts of goodwill.

The smuggling case,monitored by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, is being probed by the Customs (Preventive) Division, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, the Intelligence Bureau, and Enforcement Directorate. The agencies have arrested 15 people in connection with the case till now.

Two senior officials, including chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s principal secretary M Sivasankar, were removed after their name cropped up in the investigation.

“We hope the probe will not take a political colour,” said senior CPI(M) leader K N Balagopal.

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